by Colleen Wainwright | The Communicatrix
The best advice you will never hear from anyone in the business
By Colleen Wainwright
You will hate this column.
If you are anything like me—like I was, 12 years ago, just starting out—you will resist everything I say in the next several paragraphs, leave in a huff, and possibly quit reading me, period; labeling me crazy, useless or both.
That’s too bad, because what I have to say could be incredibly useful to you. I know, because 12 years down the line, I wish someone had said it to me. So despite the potential of you leaving in droves, I’m saying it now:
Quit trying to get an agent.
I mean it—Stop. This. Instant. Now do a quick mental tally of the hours… days… weeks… you have spent looking for representation. Starting. Upgrading. Re-starting.
If you’re like 97.9% of the actors I’ve met—and I’ve met a lot, from my time on both sides of the camera—your number will be startlingly, embarrassingly high. Obscenely high. Combined with the hours you spend fussing over your marketing materials, fiddling with your resume, attending workshops and/or showcases, possibly well over half the total amount you spend on all acting activity, period.
Might I humbly suggest a different tactic? Work on making yourself the actor that has agents chasing you, rather than the other way around. This includes, but is not limited to, such activities as: going to class; going to another class; learning a new language or skill; reading (both civilian and actor-type); doing your exercises (both civilian and actor-type); writing; seeing shows; creating shows; watching movies; creating movies, etc. etc. etc.
More on that later. Now, for those of you who are still reading, let me address the inevitable objections, one by one.
OBJECTION #1: But Colleen, you have to have an agent to get work.
Well, yes. And also, no.
For commercials, this is pretty much true. But I don’t really have an issue with you going out to get a commercial agent, provided you have some clue about acting/auditioning, a workable, commercial look or both. In fact, I think it’s great to have a commercial agent and great to go out on commercial auditions. (I’d say it’s great to book and shoot commercials, too, but that’s pretty much a no-brainer.)
Fact is, it’s comparatively easy to get a commercial agent. If you have a decent headshot and resume—meaning, nicely printed, not necessarily chock full o’ stuff—and minimal acting chops, you’ve got a good shot. The bar is not set as high, and the club is not as exclusive.
But in theatrical, you do not necessarily need an agent to get work: you need an agent to get auditions. Big difference.
OBJECTION #2: But Colleen, you daft lunatic, you have to have an agent to get you the auditions to get work
Again—yes… and no.
In my entire theatrical career, I had one agent. I never met her, but given who she said I reminded her of, the youngest of whom was Jo Anne Worley (link: http://imdb.com/name/nm0941506/), I put her at about 78. This agent-savior of mine screwed up the one major TV audition that I managed to get for myself, and when I called her on the phone to fire her, cried about how her corns had been flaring up and did I know how painful that was?
100% non-fabricated story.
Now, in my admittedly tiny theatrical career (I was a commercial and stage actress), I did small guest spots on five or six TV shows, some of which still pay me residuals, and voiced an animated character that had its own plush figure at Target. Again, no lie—I have the toy as proof. I got every one of those jobs myself, because someone saw me on stage and called me in. I even booked one small film part because a commercial director I’d worked for finally got a movie deal.
So, is it easy to get work or auditions without an agent? No. But it’s not always easy to do it with an agent. If you start hustling now, you’ll be far better prepared to utilize the agent you do get more efficiently.
In other words, your hire-ability gets you work, not your agent.
OBJECTION #3: Okay, Miss Smarty-Pants—how do I make myself hire-able?
Glad you asked. Seriously. Because if you’re still reading this, it means you’re willing to work and—unless you are EXCEPTIONALLY beautiful, young, ugly/freaky or hilarious—that’s what getting work takes: work (And if you want a long career, it takes work no matter who you are or what you look like).
First off: you’re studying, right? Please say “yes.” And by studying, I don’t mean showing up to class (mostly) every week (except when you don’t feel like it because you’re tired/hungover/unprepared/sad/wanting to go snowboarding). I mean every freakin’ week, with big, fiery, well-rehearsed bells on. With a spare monologue under your belt—or a spare scene you may have even written yourself, with an equally fiery scene partner—so that you’re ready to jump in when the other losers bail at the last minute.
I mean acting all the time, for free, in parts that stretch you and for the sake of stretching you, not being seen stretching.
I mean engaging in all—and I do mean all—of the activities I listed in back in paragraph seven.
Basically, I mean rejiggering your thinking—and your time—so that the activities that make up your life are more proactive than passive, so you start thinking of yourself as a valuable commodity with something to back it up rather than some fairy tale lass locked in a tower, waiting for someone to discover you.
Unlike a lot of the other arts, actors require something external to practice their craft—the whole tree-falling-silently-in-the-forest thing. So put the bulk of your time and energy into what you can control, and spend minimal time on what you can’t.
It’s hard to break out of that mentality of waiting for your break to come to you. But the thing is, there’s no one break. It’s mainly a myth, and when it’s not, it’s never the thing you predicted it would be.
I don’t really want you not to get an agent; hell, I’d like all of you to get great agents, and the parts of your dreams, and thank me in a drunken, inappropriate speech from the podium. That’s why I’m begging you to be realistic: seriously consider where your head and heart are at (hint: where you spend your time is a great indicator) and adjust accordingly.
Now… let’s get to work!
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BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: With multiple demands on your attention (not to mention the stress of family gatherings, crowded stores, and Mass Holiday Fever), this time of the year can be tricky for reading. My suggestion is not to stop, but to adapt: enjoy a collection of engrossing (no pun intended!) interviews with actors and other artists; pick up a book of short stories; or re-read an old inspiring or engrossing favorite you haven’t picked up in a while. Just don’t give up—reading makes you smarter and keeps you saner!
Colleen Wainwright is a writer–speaker-layabout who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.